Investigative journalism: the future

January 28, 2020 • Business Models, Latest stories, Specialist Journalism • by

Session of Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Hamburg, September 2019

Part of GIJN’s mission is to promote the sharing of information among investigative journalists worldwide

Investigative journalism is flourishing, despite being a precarious business. Those in the know predict that over the next few years, it will have greater impact than ever before. Last year, over 1,500 journalists from 130 countries got together in Hamburg for the latest Global Investigative Journalism Conference (GIJC), where they discussed recent trends in the industry and looked at some of the challenges that lie ahead.

Three key takeaways

  • AI is a game-changer

Though some journalists still feel that Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been over-hyped, a number of GIJC panellists described it as transformative for journalism in general and for investigative reporting in particular. Technology has made it easier for journalists to sift through the huge amounts of data involved in major investigations such as Panama Papers and the Danske Bank money laundering scandal.

Nevertheless, the process still poses a major challenge, as most journalists have only limited resources at their disposal when dealing with such enormous amounts of data. In response to the question “How can investigative journalists make better use of technology in their work?”, Marina Walker Guevara, director of strategic initiatives for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), said that machine learning techniques can make journalists’ lives very much easier by helping them to organise and understand complex datasets that include millions of documents and leaked audio files. AI is likely to have a massive impact on the industry, revolutionising not only how news is collected and distributed but also journalists’ ability to delegate tasks such as analysing large numbers of documents and files.

  • Collaboration is vital

Collaboration between news organisations is vital for the success of cross-border investigations. According to Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) founder Drew Sullivan, media organisations that don’t collaborate are “way behind the times”. Several advanced knowledge management systems capable of tracking billions of entities – including criminal networks, politicians and corporate structures – are now available. These systems also allow journalists to mine information to find new stories. OCCRP’s Aleph system one of the best such platforms for finding public records and leaks is a global archive of research material, allowing journalists to search and track people, companies, real estate, court archives and more. Specialists such as Drew Sullivan believe that further developments in tracking systems could revolutionise the practice of collaborative investigative journalism.

  • The audience is key

One of the main challenges facing news organisations that specialise in investigative reporting is how to achieve financial sustainability. At the GIJC, there was much discussion of innovative business strategies and how to build strong membership-based models. Philanthropy was also mentioned as a source of funding worth exploring. The fundraising guru Bridget Gallagher has compiled a fundraising resources tipsheet to help journalists identify potential sponsors.

News organisations need to bear in mind that whether they are shifting to a membership-based model or to a subscription-based one, their relationship with their audience is of fundamental importance. Audience research expert Emily Goligoski told the conference: “Be in touch with your prospective members… understanding their news information needs is absolutely invaluable”. The GIJN’s survival guide Global Investigative Journalism: Strategies for Support, also contains useful advice on how non-profit investigative groups can become financially viable.

Three top tips

  • Build networks

Cross-border investigations require reliable partners. Journalists need to build a strong network of like-minded organisations in different countries. Collaboration platforms such as “Hostwriter“, a platform for cross-border collaborations, can help them find partners for transnational investigations.

  • Fact-check

Misinformation challenges and the tools needed to overcome them vary from country to country. Specialists attending the GIJC shared some of the tools they use on a regular basis to fact-check and verify content online. Yandex’s reverse image search appears to work well as a means of facial recognition. The local search-and-discovery mobile app Foursquare helps journalists to verify the location of certain events. Map Checking – recommended by Gülin Çavuş, the editor-in-chief of the verification platform Teyit – can be used to check estimates of crowd sizes.

To identify misinformation, journalists need access to reliable and verified facts. One news organisation that specialises in fact-checking, Africa Check, has developed a tool called “Infofinder“, which offers a carefully selected collection of facts and sources on key topics such as health, agriculture, politics and crime for readers in countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Senegal and Ivory Coast.

  • Master the search tools

Internet research specialist Paul Myers told EJO about some useful open source tools and ways of improving the effectiveness of online searches. The following tools are of particular interest to investigative journalists:

  • Pipl.com: A huge database giving journalists and organisations access to over 3 billion identities as a way of validating transactions, investigating sources and finding contacts.
  • Reverse Image Search: The reverse image search option on the search engines Yandex and Google is useful for fact-checking or verifying.
  • Twitter’s advanced search option even allows you to track conversations between two accounts.
  • Domain Big Data: This website allows searching by name, email address and domain name when tracking people, organisations or companies.

Myers’ own website lists many additional useful tools, as does this list of resources compiled by The Intercept’s Margo Williams.

Main image: photo of GIJN19 session © Nick Jaussi Reproduced with permission / Second image: Public domain

If you liked this story, you may also be interested in Connecting Investigative Journalism in Eastern Europe 

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